Louise Bourgeois



Louise Bourgeois’ parents had a tapestry gallery in Paris and her mother ran a workshop for the restoration of tapestries in Choisy-le-Roi. Bourgeois’ exposure to art, craft, and textiles informed her work, be it drawing, painting, sculpture or her own inquiry into the fiber arts. The early work in Bourgeois’ oeuvre served as a cathartic transformation of trauma stemming from her father’s affairs, then the death of her mother, both of which she interpreted as abandonment. Her personal experience thrust her into a need to express and mutate the general uneasiness she felt in life into art that addressed the body and its vulnerability. She was especially upset and compelled by the death of her father. But her later work dealt primarily with the role of the mother generally and her mother specifically.


The large spider sculptures that are unmistakably the work of Bourgeois, she associated with her mother, or all mothers, as both predator and protector. Spiders are also spinners and weavers, occupations historically in the domain of “women’s work.” In her later period she also produced tapestries, though of a very different ilk than the antiques she saw in her childhood. “The needle is used to repair damage. It’s a claim to forgiveness. It’s never aggressive, it’s not a pin,” she once said.


The crochet projects of red cord as bright as fresh blood are certainly extensions to mend and make amends. They are webby and allude to spiders, and domesticity, and feminine in content and form. She refers to the crocheted works as a “solution to continuity.” Bourgeois’ spiders as much commentary on herself as creator as on her mother and women on the whole—as creator, predator, and protector.


Louise Bourgeois was born in Paris on December 25, 1911. Her family moved to Choisy-le-Roi when she was only a few years old. Her mother died when she was twenty-two and inspired a switch from studying mathematics at the Sorbonne to studying art. Fernand Léger, a veteran instructor from the Bauhaus, saw her work and encouraged her to pursue sculpture. After her stint at the Sorbonne, Bourgeois took jobs as a translator for English speaking art students in order to acquire the knowledge for herself. She was an indefatigable student who attended École des Beaux-Arts, the independent academies of Montparnasse and Montmartre such as Académie Colarossi, Académie RansonAcadémie JulianAcadémie de la Grande Chaumière. She also studied independently with artists such as Léger. She met her husband, Robert Goldwater while running a print shop next door to her father’s gallery. She moved to New York to be with him in 1938. In New York she continued her studies at the Art Student’s League of New York. In the 1950’s she joined the Abstract Expressionists and was friends with Rothko and de Kooning among others.


Bourgeois taught at Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, Brooklyn College, New York School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture as well as the School of Visual Arts in New York. The Museum of Modern Art held Bourgeois’ first retrospective in 1982. Her work is represented in innumerable other museums and private collections including The Art Institute of Chicago, the Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, New York, Dallas Museum of Art, the Guggenheim New York and Bilbao,  Fundación Proa, Buenos Aires, Qatar Museums Authority, the Haus der Kunst, in Munich, and many others.